Feet of clay
It’s the biblical equivalent of an Achilles’ heel. When a leader has a flaw that makes him vulnerable he is said to have “feet of clay.”
The phrase originates in the book of Daniel which, like Ezekiel, is set in the Babylonian captivity. Daniel, along with others, is carried away to Babylon and then hand-picked to serve in their civil service. Just like Joseph, Daniel rises through the ranks of this foreign land through the wisdom of the Spirit. And like Joseph, he gains prominence through the interpretation of a dream.
King Nebuchadnezzar dreams of a giant statue that is destroyed by a rock:
32 This image’s head was of fine gold, his breast and his arms of silver, his belly and his thighs of brass, 33 His legs of iron, his feet part of iron and part of clay. 34 Thou sawest till that a stone was cut out without hands, which smote the image upon his feet that were of iron and clay, and brake them to pieces. 35 Then was the iron, the clay, the brass, the silver, and the gold, broken to pieces together, and became like the chaff of the summer threshing floors; and the wind carried them away, that no place was found for them: and the stone that smote the image became a great mountain, and filled the whole earth. (Daniel 2:32-35)
Daniel gives this interpretation: the various body parts are kingdoms. The head of gold is Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylon. Following his empire will come three more kingdoms. The fourth won’t so much have feet of clay. The fourth kingdom is represented by feet of clay mixed with iron.
Iron and clay tell us that this kingdom will be strong but brittle. Its demise will come at the hands of a “stone” which seemed small and inconsequential compared to such towering might. Yet as the stone strikes a blow at this fourth kingdom, it fells it and takes over the world. (Daniel 7 also picks up this theme of the four kingdoms and their destruction by the Rock – the Son of Man.)
And so “when the fulness of time was come, God sent forth His Son,” the Rock (Galatians 4:4). He grew up in the kingdom of iron and clay. And He appeared to have no chance whatsoever. He was crushed under foot by the Romans. And yet, within three hundred years the empire that crucified Him confessed Him Lord. Today, His kingdom continues to fill the earth.
Look at the mightiest empires of today. Think of the most immovable powers opposed to the gospel of Jesus. They don’t just have feet of clay. They are feet of clay. And they must topple as every enemy is brought under Christ’s feet. (Psalm 110:1)
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